Rowland removes the small iron bar blocking the side door. I push him out and remove my weapon from his throat once my escort is through. The peasants on the back-line are staring at me and my warriors.
Two of them are dragging a man with a bleeding hand out of the fight. The rest are surrounding the soldiers and helping them sustain the Rykz’ pressure by pushing back when they advance.
Three harvesters are spearheading the attack and the soldiers here are having trouble containing them with swords and spears. The one in the middle has scorched marks on its carapaced flat head.
Just as I notice that, a ball of fire impacts it, this time setting its torso ablaze. The Rykz cries in pain and swipes with his four arms, cutting through shields without effort and breaking the bones of those who block in desperation.
I glance up at the defense tower’s top level, finding a Noble with his hand extended out between the crenelation. He is about forty. His dark hair, brown eyes, and refined traits look vaguely familiar.
Archers target the harvesters and release a volley through their arrowslits. It has little effect other than angering the one they set on fire even more. He steps back and charges the soldiers, gaining speed surprisingly quickly for such a large creature.
He impacts their ranks and they are thrown back. An opening that Rykz scouts take advantage of, pouring in the breach and holding until the warriors advance their shield wall to secure the seized terrain. Another fire ball impacts the harvester, feeding the flames even more.
“I knew you were lying about your intentions. You’re just standing there.” Rowland accuses, his green eye glaring like they’re trying to bore holes in my helmet.
“I’m assessing the situation, keep quiet.” I reply absent-mindedly.
I forgot that there would be Nobles on top of this tower, they haven’t noticed me yet but they will. Unfortunately, more and more peasants are turning to my escort so they’ll notice before I can go back in and take them down. I’m out of time.
“Make way.” I shout, advancing. “The war is over! Lay down your weapons and heal your wounds!”
An arrow flies towards the back of my helmet, I avoid it by simply angling my head sideways but it turns out to be unnecessary as one of my warriors blocks it for me.
“Hold your fire!” The Noble calls out. “Elizabeth Vil, the surrender must be coordinated or the defense will fall into chaos and even more will die. Countess Lance is to send the signal.”
I throw a glance over my shoulder, the man reacted differently than I expected. My Lady did work, yet I failed my own task. Not for long, I’ll get to Meria soon. By the time I look back to the lines, the harvester is no longer on fire and is now pushing with the two others towards my position.
“The Rykz will not attack if you drop your swords!” I yell at the top of my lungs.
Luckily, or the defenders are simply getting injured so often that it isn’t a coincidence, one of the soldiers takes a blow to the side of his head and lets go of his weapon, he is subsequently ignored by a scout that was about to finish him off.
“It worked!” He exclaims.
The soldier picks it up again to try to kill the Rykz by surprise, only to end up killed by another because he was too eager and dropped his own guard. I groan and force the peasants aside, splitting my focus to observe my warriors to make sure they don’t attack.
For now, they seem content holding to a tight defensive formation around me but that may be because none of the defenders are daring to attack. The harvesters are picking up wounds in their attempt to reach me and felling multiple soldiers.
“Enough!” I shout, slamming my hammer on the ground. The Rykz all pause, confused, and that causes a lull in the battle. “Lower your weapons.”
Most defenders hesitate but those on the front-line don’t. Faced with a very real chance of preserving their own lives, they obey and move back. The reversion of momentum added to the Rykz’ hesitation causes the fight to end almost immediately as a small divide appears between the two sides.
“Call the retreat now. I will not allow Meria to escape me once again, even if I have to attack you myself.” I turn and challenge the man.
The Noble remains silent, considering. Rowland, on the other hand, is scrutinizing me with suspicion. He seems to want to talk so I take hold of his jaw and keep it shut. The Lord suddenly nods, having made his mind up.
“Pull back! Form ranks on either side of the siege towers.” He orders before turning to me. “That’s the best I can offer, Elizabeth Vil. We won’t stand in your way but we won’t allow you to disrupt those defending the neighboring sections.”
“You can reinforce them for all I care. I only need enough Rykz to get to Meria and end this once and for all.” I reply.
I release the kid and go through the soldier’s lines without waiting for them to make way. My warriors merge with the others and they form tighter ranks to allow more of them to exit the siege tower. Surprisingly, Rowland follows, apparently determined to keep his single eye on me.
I walk up to the crenelation next to it and look out, searching for Celyz or Fenyz. Or really any one of them who would have sent those weird constructs that apparently scatter flow, which seems like it shouldn’t be possible since they’re made of flow and would disrupt themselves.
At least, the logic of it escapes me. I shake my head, focusing. I don’t find any Princesses but they should be there, simply hidden. I check my reserves to see if I could do something to attract their attention but I don’t even have enough to make a fire construct, much less a lightning one.
“Give me your flow.” I tell him.
“What are you going to do with it?” He asks with a narrowed eye.
“Send a message.” I reply shortly.
“Wh…” Rowland starts.
I interrupt him by seizing the back of his neck and forcing him to look down at the Rykz flooding into the bottom of the siege tower. I then make him look at the inside of it, where they emerge on top of the stairs.
“What’s the point of wasting my time here, kid?” I ask rhetorically. “I’ve better things to do.”
“Kid?!” He protests.
“Rowland.” I say, adding pressure to my grip.
He reluctantly hands over a small amount of flow, just enough. I assemble a lightning construct, taking care not to show the color of my energy, and activate it, aiming at the sky.
I then wait patiently, scrutinizing the gray night, illuminated by dozens of torches fixated along the wall and some thrown at the bottom of the rampart. After a few long moments, a large ball of black energy cruises through the air and stops in front of me. I extend my hand and the Princess cuts her link to it, allowing me to absorb it. It refills my reserves entirely.
“That’s possible?” Rowland asks, surprised. “I thought flow was different between species.”
“It’s the basis for this entire war, they took a Princess and provoked this disaster because of it.” I reply, pushing him away.
“I didn’t really believe that.” He admits.
I make my way to the defense tower, the path now open for me and the Rykz. The soldiers formed ranks but left a path to let us pass. They’re watching us, hatred in their eyes but visibly relieved at not having to fight.
The Rykz make their breathing cry in response to the stares. I slam my hammer on the ground to put an end to that and then raise my hand to point at the door. They advance, two by two, a long column forming within moments.
I have a bit of time before they all get to the bottom of the rampart, so I might as well use it. I enter the tower and climb the stairs, opening the hatch to the top floor. Inside, I find the Noble waiting with four others, one of them holding a white flag banner high.
“Count Lewis Urnan.” He bows. Roisia’s Father, no wonder I thought he looked familiar.
“Why aren’t you killing her? Why didn’t you kill her?” Rowland asks loudly from a floor under this one.
“Because we could not.” Urnan responds firmly. “Regardless of the fact that Duke Meria just ran away from her after wasting more flow than I’ve ever seen gathered together, come up and see for yourself.” He waits for Rowland to get past the dozen warriors escorting me. “We’ve traded one of ours for three of the creatures, yet the Rykz were still gaining ground. It would have only gotten worse if I foolishly gave the order to fight on two fronts.”
“We can’t give up yet, there has to be a way.” Rowland denies.
“You’re welcome to try.” I intervene coldly.
“This is all your fault, if you hadn’t brought these creatures in Meria, we could have held!” The kid exclaims, unsheathing a sword from behind his back.
My warriors cry as a warning. I pat the closest one’s head to calm it down before turning my back on Rowland and walking up to the eastern crenelation to keep an eye on the column of Rykz emerging beneath.
“We could not.” Urnan counters sadly. “We’ve lost three sections already and the gatehouse is only holding because the Templars got there just in time. We were fooled by the battle on the plains, the scouts we faced are much easier to deal with than these warriors.” He turns to me. “I’ve signaled to Countess Lance that we’re no longer fighting.” He says pointing at the white flag.
“You should get the rest to follow your example.” I tell him.
“They are, look north.” He replies.
Soldiers wearing the Duke’s color are evacuating. I frown and enhance my eyesight to inspect the headquarters where they’re headed. Someone is waving a red flag on its roof.
“You’re wrong.” I tell him. “Those are the Duke’s men. They’re running away and leaving you behind.”
“He wouldn’t dare! We’re only here because he insisted that we need to cut the Rykz army down to size! The Court agreed because it gives Caeviel a better chance of freeing the Izla!” Urnan says, rushing to my side. “The rat! His personal guard isn’t in position behind the gates anymore!”
“He never planned to bring you along if he had to escape.” I giggle. “No wonder, titles Nobles are not quite as useful without their subjects.” Urnan remains silent, his face blank.
I flip around and make my way to the hatch, leaving the man to deal with the realities of Nobility. Rowland doesn’t follow this time, his hand is squeezing his sword’s handle but he remains immobile.
“Come along if you want to see exactly who it is you’re fighting for.” I speak up on a whim.
I make my way downstairs without waiting for his decision and step outside. Once the Rykz are all gathered in one huge square, I do a quick count. Five hundred warriors, a few squads of scouts, and a handful of harvesters. That’ll do.
There are more climbing the tower but as far as I can tell, they’re holding their ground on the rampart. A quick glance north and south informs me that no other Rykz have done what I told these to do, despite several portions of the wall having supposedly fallen. Their orders are probably to hold beachheads rather than invade the city itself.
I tap the five harvesters on their flanks, because I’m far from being able to reach even their lower shoulders, getting them to stick close to me and start marching towards the headquarters.
“Wait!” Rowland shouts as he exits the defense tower.
Ignoring the call, I lead the Rykz through the construction site while he runs to catch up. When he reaches their back-line, two turn and prevent him from even approaching. I’m surprised that he isn’t more afraid of them, they did just take his eye.
“Let him through.” I call out, experimenting.
The Rykz give no visible reaction to my call. I slow down, extending my hand out to tell them to keep going. I push the warriors aside and Rowland joins me, frowning.
“How can you work for these creatures? They’re invading us, how could you help them?” He asks.
“How can you work for Nobility? They’re oppressing peasantry, how could you help them?” I reply without emotion.
That shuts him up. To our left, a few hundred of the Duke’s soldiers are moving to intercept us before we can reach the large stone building on the other end of the construction site. The two hundred men and women at arms are moving out to join up with them.
Instead of slowing down, I wave my hand towards the soldiers and a portion of my forces detach to block them. That fight should turn into a stalemate considering their equal numbers. The Rykz’ individual skill is a disadvantage that should be overcome by their fearlessness and discipline.
“You say you seek to end the war, but from all I’ve heard all you’ve done is cause chaos.” Rowland accuses. “The fighting has ended on the wall, yet here you are attacking the command post.”
“Damage control, I’m finishing Meria before he can gather soldiers and involve the rest of the city in this.” I say, already regretting my snap decision to bring him along.
Don’t know what came over me. Guilt maybe. Stupid, I should know better than to let this stuff get to me. Convincing him would help convince myself that I made the right choices despite how badly my plans went.
From Castle Lance’s defenders bringing the fight into the streets after we breached the walls. To the battle on the plains that occurred because of the very situation I put in motion. To… to Father. I take a deep breath.
To tonight where I failed at both my objectives of capturing Lance and killing Meria which resulted in… this. I glance over my shoulder, the distance allowing me to catch sight of what’s happening on the rampart. Peasants and soldiers still defending portions of the wall walk because I failed.
“How many deaths are you responsible for?” Rowland asks when I turn back, his green eye glaring.
“More than I can count.” I reply, saddened by the truth. He seems to have a follow-up so I decide to immediately shut that down. “If you’re going with numbers, then I’ve saved many more lives than I’ve ended, kid. The battle for Castle Lance would have ended in a much worse bloodbath if I didn’t come to an agreement with Lance.”
The soldiers clash with the Rykz on my left. I wish them luck but don’t keep my focus on the Duke’s personal guard. I accelerate to the front-lines, the five harvesters by my side. I notice that Rowland is about to speak again and cut him off.
“I don’t have time for you right now.” I cut him off. “Just consider the fact that thousands of peasants were slaughtered on the Duke’s orders and by his hand while I deal with this.”
About fifty Nobles on horseback emerge from behind the headquarters’ building. They’re riding in this general direction, but at a slight angle. Planning to go around and flank us, then. Fuck. I stop and slam my hammer on the ground to order a halt.
I ditch the kid, making my way to each of the scout squads, ordering them to gather on the right flank. Once they’re all there, I point them at the horsemen and order the warriors to charge the men at arms who are now very close.
I hesitate about which I’ll attack, but I know that the doubt originates from my desire to put Nobles down rather than clear thinking. I steady myself and head to the Duke’s personal guard. The Nobles won’t be a problem once they’re dealt with.
My left flank is engaged and holding but the soldiers have reinforcements coming straight from the wall. Fuck, am I going to make it? Doesn’t matter anymore, Meria is lost. All that’s left is to do all I can yet.
The warriors clash with the men at arms, shield against shield. Few fall during the initial impact but casualties soon pick up as sabers cross swords. I accelerate my pace, their ranks open to let me and my harvesters pass.
I assemble a lion strike and bring my hammer overhead. I slam it into a shield, breaking it and its wielder’s arms. I step over the woman and keep charging, the harvesters follow on either side.
The large Rykz use their four arms and size to plow into our opponent’s lines, each removing two for every one I take down. I keep using constructs to boost my strength and speed, allowing myself no pause as I smash people aside.
I fall into a rhythm, two heavy strikes to tear through the shields facing me and one step forward. Rare are those who fail to block my attacks, but even rarer are those who stand after taking one.
Not that they manage to do much once they get back up as the warriors following me and the harvesters finish them off before they can swing their swords at our backs. Red blood splashes as an officer falls, chest torn by my hammer’s spikes.
I keep advancing losing track of time and immersed in the fight, following its tempo like a dance. I step aside to avoid a slash in my helmet’s blind spot and retaliate with a kick, chaining that with a simple overhead blow that crushes the man’s head.
I pause, hearing the anxiety in their breathing cries. I’m deep within their ranks, having almost split the bulk of their force in two. My harvesters are still by my side but the warriors are trailing behind. They are aggressively pushing to rejoin with me.
The horsemen have fallen on my right flank, I don’t know how long ago. But they’re too late. I press on, engaging the last line of the Duke’s guard. The one that holds them together. If they break, I’ll be able to flank and break their formation.
I immediately encounter a lieutenant who does what very, very, few have done during this battle. He stops my attack with his shield. He stumbles but gets out of it with apparently no broken bones and counter-attacks while on his back foot with a dazzlingly fast slash aimed at my right hand.
I let go of my weapon to save my fingers and spin on myself to gather momentum and assemble a lion strike. At the end of the turn, I release a one-armed blow with my hammer, activating the construct. It hits his left thigh, tearing the leg off his body despite the hard leather armor.
The result of our exchange terrifies the men and women under him who were already visibly fearful. They flee, causing a chain reaction among the rest who also break ranks and scatter to run in different directions.
The Nobles on horseback turn tail as soon as it happens, knowing that they no longer have the advantage. I don’t let myself relax and check my left flank where another skirmish is ongoing.
The warriors there are now in a defensive circle, being pushed back by an ever-growing force of soldiers. I signal my entire left-wing to go reinforce them and lead the rest towards the headquarters.
I do a quick head count on the way, of the five hundred I began with, only two remain at my side. It is enough. I shake my weapon, unsuccessfully trying to get rid of the red blood sticking to it.
“You’re a brute.” Rowland says walking up to me. “A skillful one, but a brute still.”
“What is it now?” I ask impatiently.
“You’ve made your point, Nobility is fractured and wrong in many ways.” He admits. “But you’re no better.”
“I am no ruler. I’m doing what needs to be done.” I reply.
“You command these creatures. You bent the shape of the war according to your own desires.” Rowland refutes.
“Who are you?” I question, suspicious. I may have given that kid an invitation but he’s been sticking with me of his own free will.
“Urnan’s bastard.” He replies shortly. “My half-sister spoke of you, Roisia.”
“Will you get in my way?” I ask, adjusting my grip over my hammer.
“What would be the point? The situation is chaotic enough already. I want to see what you offered to show me.” Rowland says, stepping over a woman’s torso with guts spilling out, sliced off at the waist by a harvester’s blade. “Barbaric.” He comments sadly.
“Such is war.” I reply regretfully.